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Today in Austria: A roundup of the latest news on Friday

Find out what's going on in Austria on Friday with The Local's short roundup of today's important news.

People enjoy sunny weather in Vienna's Stadtpark. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
People enjoy sunny weather in Vienna's Stadtpark, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Further opening steps for June 10th  to be announced at noon

Further opening steps for June 10th will be announced in Austria around noon. Shops will be able to let in more customers with distance restrictions significantly reduced from 20 to ten square meters per customer, according to Der Standard newspaper citing “government circles”. The curfew will be extended to midnight. A maximum of eight instead of the previous four people (excluding children) will be able to sit at one table in the interior of bars and restaurants. Outside, the number of people will be increased from ten to 16. 

READ MORE: Austria set to further relax coronavirus measures on June 10th

Politician calls for end of entry registration at borders

ÖVP Salzburg politician Wilfried Haslauer also wants the government to discuss ending entry registration at the borders, saying it is leading to unnecessary traffic jams and “enormous expenditure”. 

Czech Republic opens borders to tourists who have been vaccinated at least once

The Czech Republic will open its borders to Austrian tourists with at least one vaccination dose on Monday. People who have already been vaccinated can enter the country without restrictions.  Vaccination certificates from Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will be recognised in the Czech Republic. In addition, restaurants in the Czech Republic will again be able to receive guests inside from Monday.

READ MORE: Austria’s easing of border restrictions leads to chaos at Vienna airport

Russia refused to allow flight from Vienna to Moscow 

Russia refused permission for a plane travelling from Vienna to Moscow to change its flight route to avoid Belarus airspace, Der Standard newspaper reports. As a consequence AUA had to cancel  the scheduled flight OS601 from Vienna to Moscow planned for Thursday morning. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg called the Russian reaction “incomprehensible”. The state-owned Belarusian airline Belavia landed and took off in Vienna on Wednesday, but Belavia has now  stopped its flights to Austria and other EU countries.

Austria’s National Vaccination Committee backs vaccine for children

The European Medical Agency is expected to decide on Friday whether to approve the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine. Pediatrician Albrecht Prieler, who is a member of Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) said it was important children should be protected with a Covid-19 vaccination as soon as possible. He said even if if Covid-19 was usually milder in children, there was still a “residual risk” of a severe course, adding without vaccinating children it will “never be possible” to achieve herd immunity, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

READ MORE: Is Austria moving towards vaccinating children against Covid

Warmer weather on the horizon

It is finally about to get warmer in Austria after a record-breaking spell of cold weather this spring, broadcaster ORF promises. The spring has not been this cold since 1991 and 1996, it reports, though the temperatures would have been considered normal in the 1960s and 70s.  In Klagenfurt and on the Loibl pass in Carinthia, May was one of the rainiest ever since records began. Unusually large amounts of mountain snow also meant there were fewer thunderstorms this year in May.

Seven day incidence at 41

Austria’s seven-day incidence, i.e. the number of new infections with the coronavirus in the past seven days per 100,000 inhabitants, is 41.1 according to the AGES database. In all federal states, the number is now well below 100 – with Vorarlberg (83.3) and Burgenland (21.4) having the highest and lowest values, respectively.

Changes to debt capital tax law proposed

Finance Minister Blümel wants to treat debt capital in the same way as equity in terms of tax law. Blümel said he wants to create more resilience. At a press conference on Thursday he said the equity ratio of the companies should increase by an average of two percentage points – from 36 to up to 38 percent, the Wiener Zeitung newspaper reports . The Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ) welcomes the proposals, but the Chamber of Labour (AK), and the SPÖ  said only large, profitable companies with good equity capital benefit from the measure and would have to pay fewer taxes. 

People still want to work in an office despite boom in home working

People still want to work in an office despite the rise of home working, according to Bruno Ettenauer, head of S Immo AG in Die Presse  newspaper. He says office properties in good locations will remain “very attractive” for investors, while Franz Jurkowitsch, CEO of the real estate developer Warimpex, has not noticed any massive slumps in the office market either, saying the pandemic has primarily affected the hotel and commercial property asset classes. 

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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